Developers pitch for chance to build Winthrop Square tower
The race is on for the right to build the tallest building in the Financial District.
Six major developers filed proposals Thursday for towers on the site of the city-owned Winthrop Square Garage that would fill the sky above a tiny park in the heart of downtown Boston with an array of condos, apartments, office space, and hotels.
Any of the proposals — most of which are 725 feet high — would add a new peak to the skyline view of downtown and become the city’s third-tallest building, behind Back Bay’s 200 Clarendon Street (formerly the John Hancock Tower) and Prudential Center. And sale of the site, now a shuttered garage, to any of the developers will likely pour tens of millions of dollars into city coffers.
But as developers make their pitch to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which hopes to award the site to one of them in June, most emphasize what their projects do at street level, more so than how they’d alter Boston’s skyline.
The approach is a reflection of the fact that all proposals are tall, designed by world-class architects, and filled with top-tier amenities. To win the hotly contested site, the develop-ers are hoping to set themselves apart with benefits to the broader community, not just the people who live and work upstairs.
“We think a real differentiator is what we do on the ground,” said Nicholas Iselin, general manager for Lendlease Development in Boston, which is offering to use the proceeds from the project to help fund neighborhood nonprofits in South Boston, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain. “This is about a place on the ground and how it advances Boston.”
So their thick, glossy pitch books are full of designs to enliven sleepy Winthrop Square with new plazas and passageways. Millennium Partners would put a soaring “Great Hall” connecting Devonshire and Federal streets, while the Lendlease team proposes a three-story “Cultural Pavilion,” a partnership with the nonprofit Fort Point Arts Community. Several plans include a small public theater. A few have space set aside for startups.
Some also detail ambitious plans for affordable housing. Lendlease and Millennium have already signed partnerships with Chinatown-based nonprofits to build low-income apartments in the neighborhood. Others, including Accordia Partners, plan to do the same. Trinity Financial, which specializes in mixed-income housing development, is promising that 40 percent of units in its 60 story tower — 252 apartments and condos in all — will be set at rents the average Bostonian can afford.
“We think this is a really fantastic opportunity to look at [Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s] housing plan and put a substantial dent in it,” said Eva Erlich, vice president of development at Trinity.
Then there are even more concrete goodies. Trans National Development is planning a two-building complex — it owns neighboring 133 Federal Street — that would include an Entrepreneurship Innovation Center for startups. And the proposal from HYM Investment Group would essentially swap sites with neighboring St. Anthony Shrine on Arch Street, building its tower there while putting a new church, friary, and school on the city’s squat garage. Those are the sort of things a budding neighborhood needs, said HYM’s managing director, Tom O’Brien, and this project is big enough to finance them.
“The church and the school will create a really great civic space,” O’Brien said. “Rather than the city simply taking a one-time payment of money, why not use the garage to create a civic center that will last a long time?”
Ever since then-Mayor Thomas M. Menino pitched the crumbling garage more than a decade ago as a potential site for a 1,000-foot tower, Winthrop Square has been targeted for big development.
Trans National, backed by entrepreneur Steve Belkin, had rights to the project under Menino but shelved its plans during the economic downturn. Last year, the BRA reopened the competition, this time keeping with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines limiting the project to 725 feet. And now it wants to move quickly, before the city’s real estate boom cools off.
“It’s hard to imagine a better real estate climate in which to attract ambitious proposals for a location with as much potential as this one,” said BRA director Brian Golden. “Now is the time to capitalize on this opportunity.”
Next up, the BRA will get to work evaluating proposals. It’ll meet with developers and hold public presentations on each plan later this spring, with an eye to selecting a developer in June. Then the project will go through permitting, and the BRA and city will negotiate a purchase price for the site. In 2014, city appraisals estimated it was worth $28 million or $29 million, but that’s under current — much shorter — zoning guidelines.
That time frame, several developers said, could enable construction to start as soon as next year, meaning the tallest building in that part of the city could be changing the skyline by early next decade.
See more of the proposals: